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Overview of a torn disc from the spine experts at Laser Spine Institute St. Louis

A torn disc is a more conversational way of describing a herniated disc or ruptured disc. This condition is just as it sounds — a torn disc in the spine that has often developed due to age-related factors or sudden injury. For many patients, this condition presents itself with a series of painful symptoms in the neck or back that can make daily activities almost impossible to complete.

If you have not been able to enjoy your hobbies or even perform your daily chores due to neck or back pain, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine if a torn disc is the cause. Before your appointment, take a moment to review what exactly this condition is, what it’s caused by and what some of the treatments are so you can have an informed conversation with your doctor.

Causes of a torn disc

A torn disc can be caused by two main factors: age-related degeneration or sudden trauma to the spine. To understand how this happens, you must first understand how a disc works. A spinal disc is made of a tough, elastic outer layer (annulus fibrosus) that protects and holds in the inner nucleus (annulus pulposus). The tough outer layer and the gel-like nucleus allow the discs the strength to support the surrounding vertebrae and the flexibility to absorb the impact on the spine.

Over time, as factors like weight gain, weakened core muscles and unhealthy diet cause the spine to weaken, an excess of pressure is placed on the discs, often the lumbar discs in the lower back. As this pressure continues, the elasticity in the annulus fibrosus may begin to weaken, allowing the disc to expand outward. If this condition worsens, the pressure from the nucleus may cause the outer layer to rip open, creating a torn disc.

While a torn disc does not cause pain or symptoms on its own, these symptoms could occur if part of the disc’s nucleus or disc fragments press against a nearby nerve root in the spinal canal.

Symptoms of a torn disc

Because the symptoms of a torn disc develop when a nerve root is compressed, this pain can either stay local to the spine or travel the length of the pinched nerve into other areas of the body. The most common symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Burning sensation
  • Sharp pain when moving

If you notice these symptoms developing and the pain does not go away after several days of home remedies, such as rest and hot/cold compresses, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor so he or she can diagnose your condition.

Diagnosing a torn disc

To diagnose a torn disc, your doctor will ask you several questions about your symptoms and medical history. He or she will also perform a physical evaluation to test your level of flexibility and to identify the location source of your pain, as well as to determine how far your pain has traveled into other areas of your body and the severity of any nerve damage, if applicable. In some cases, your doctor may order an imaging test, such as an MRI or CT scan, in order to view the exact cause of your pain and symptoms.

Once a diagnosis has been made, you can begin discussing the best method of treatment so you can return to your normal quality of life.

Treatment options for a torn disc

Many people can find pain relief through a series of conservative treatments aimed at relieving pressure on the torn disc and pinched nerve in the spine. These treatments include:

  • Pain medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Yoga and stretches
  • Hot/cold compresses
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Lifestyle changes

In the event that this treatment does not effectively relieve your pain after several weeks or months, your doctor may recommend surgery.

At Laser Spine Institute St. Louis, we offer minimally invasive spine surgery as an alternative to traditional open back surgery. Our procedures yield lower risks of complication and a shorter recovery times^ comparatively, and our patients benefit from outpatient surgery that allows them to return to their home or hotel within hours after their procedure.

To learn more about the specific types of minimally invasive spine surgery we use to treat a torn disc, contact Laser Spine Institute today for a no-cost MRI review to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.